Just exactly what, this late in the literary day, do we expect from the memoir?
Certainly not the traditional recounting of historically important events by personages who steered or even just observed those events. Perhaps the last of those was penned by Bill Clinton, and most readers dragged themselves through its interminable length only in hopes of a peek into the great man’s pants.
Nor, according to the example of poet Mary Karr, whose two published memoirs in the span of five years (The Liar’s Club in 1995 and Cherry in 2000) only brought readers up to the then-unaccomplished author’s early 20s, may we expect brevity, pretense to broader significance or even a decent sense of modesty about the endeavor.
These days, you qualify for your own memoir if you once worked as a nanny, or went through a period of confusion about your sexual identity, or owned a pet that you became convinced was somehow more momentously noteworthy than everybody else’s pet. By these standards, Sting’s presence on the memoir shelf is a no-brainer.
But again, what should a reader expect of his memoir? Moral instruction? A cautionary tale about the hazards of the high life? Emotional identification with the author? A primer in how to write catchy pop tunes?
Broken Music is a wee bit thin on those counts, and yet it’s harmlessly—not to say compulsively—readable, and a bester of expectations by virtue of the really quite modest accomplishment of not totally sucking. Sting, as a musician, began his public life sucking, quite literally suffered through a brief interlude in which he didn’t suck, and as soon as opportunity arose returned to sucking. So it’s pleasant to be able to report that his first literary outing doesn’t, mostly, suck.
Which is to say the sentences are well written and well organized, and address themselves in large part to subjects—growing up poor, growing up awkward, first masturbation, catching mom in an affair, getting a symbolically shiny new bike—that almost anyone can relate to.
Okay bloke, that Sting… you think. Not so different from me, really…
In its bulk, Broken Music is just this sort of poor man’s—or is it rich man’s?—Angela’s Ashes.
But be not fooled. Sting is not like you and me. He was the frontman of The Police, for one thing, and ask guitarist Andy Summers or drummer Stewart Copeland how many of those there were. He has since entered that echelon of public fame inhabited by singularly named denizens like Cher, Bono and Madonna, and he’s tabloid-famous—like Richard Gere and his gerbil, or Rod Stewart and his, you know—for some ridiculous claim about tantrically sexing his wife of the time for something like eight hours.
Well, simmer down, sucker, because you’re not going to read about tantric sex here.
The Police—the most interesting thing Sting, nee Gordon Sumner, ever had a part in—aren’t mentioned until page 179. Copeland drummed too fast, we are told, and it was Summers’ musicality that unlocked Sting’s hesitant songwriting after years of putzing in half-assed jazz bands. That, and Sting didn’t much feel comfortable with the whole punk getup. Mostly because they were all faking every last bit of it.
That explains a good deal about Sting’s post-Police career, and it’s a good thing, since he doesn’t address that subject elsewise. In fact, the breakup of Sting’s child-producing first marriage and the implosion of The Police are accomplished, aside from some I-seen-it-comin’ foreshadowplay, in a single, brief paragraph at the end of chapter 15. In the case of The Police, it was about royalties. In the wifey bit, it apparently had something to do with Sting leaving his.
A bit cursory for a memoir, don’t you think?
But perhaps those things just aren’t what’s interesting, to Sting, about Sting.
Perhaps what’s more interesting about Sting, to Sting—and Sting is clearly interested in his subject—is that mystic night that opens the book, outside Rio de Janeiro, 1987, when he and second wife Trudie were being chauffeured to a prearranged ritual ingestion of the reportedly wildly psychedelic plant medicine called ayahuasca. Sting’s parents had recently died, one after the other, and the son’s hallucinatory visions compelled him to bore down ever more focusedly on himself in an attempt to “try to understand the child I was, and the man I became,” as he explains in the book’s opening note.
Weird: They called him arrogant when he fronted The Police.
Or maybe what Sting is really interested in is all that sod at the end, about when the contractors turned up an ancient murdered body whilst digging a pond on his ancient bloody estate, and how at first he thought oh no, am I going to be a suspect? My life has been so bloody hard already! but then they discovered the corpse’s true age and Sting is off the hook—bloody phew!—and so he gives her a burial, all proper like, on the bloody island he’s left in the middle of his pond, and then he draws some spurious analogy about having set something right with his parents, the funerals of whom he never even attended, without ever explaining, you know, why…
Hard to know what to expect from a bloody memoir indeed.
Guy’s an okay bass player, though.
Sting performs (music, not literature) Thursday, April 7, at the Adams Center with special guest Phantom Planet. Tickets are still available and cost $34.25, available at Aaron’s Rental Center, UC Box Office, Worden’s Market and Southgate Mall. Call 243-4051.